‘Prolonged Colds’ Resemble Long COVID, Say Experts

A UK study suggests that “prolonged colds” can be akin to the long-term effects of COVID-19, with individuals experiencing lingering symptoms post-initial infection.

A recent survey involving 10,171 adults revealed that extended cold symptoms may include a persistent cough, stomach discomfort, and diarrhea.

While this research provides valuable insights, more investigations are needed to determine who is most at risk, the severity of these symptoms, and potential remedies.

Why Are Coughs and Colds So Prevalent Right Now?

The concept of a respiratory virus, or other viral infections, causing enduring health issues is not novel. However, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has drawn renewed attention to this phenomenon.

According to the scientists behind this study, the results validate the experiences of individuals grappling with these prolonged symptoms. Lead researcher Professor Adrian Martineau of Queen Mary University of London emphasized, “People can genuinely feel quite debilitated after a viral infection. It’s not merely in their heads, and it’s a recognized phenomenon.”

The study, published in The Lancet’s eClinical Medicine journal, encouraged participants to report any respiratory illnesses and related symptoms during the initial two months of 2021, as the pandemic entered its second year and vaccination efforts commenced. Notably, none of the participants had received their Covid-19 vaccinations at that time.

Among the 10,171 participants:

  • 1,343 reported recent Covid-19 infections.
  • 472 indicated infection with another respiratory virus, such as the flu or a common cold.

It is important to note that not all individuals recovering from an illness experienced persistent or new symptoms. However, individuals who reported recent infections with Covid-19, the flu, or a cold in the weeks prior were more likely to experience specific symptoms in the subsequent month.

These symptoms encompassed:

  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach issues
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Memory problems and difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Coughing

People who had recently battled Covid-19 were more inclined to report issues with their sense of smell and taste, brain fog, dizziness, and sweating, compared to those with prolonged symptoms following a cold or flu.

Post-viral fatigue and related symptoms can affect individuals of all ages, and the initial illness’s severity does not consistently predict the risk of persistent symptoms. Some individuals may experience significant illness initially but recover relatively swiftly, whereas others with mild initial symptoms may endure debilitating effects for an extended period.

Lead researcher Giulia Vivaldi, from Queen Mary University of London, underscored the importance of this research: “Our findings shed light not only on the impact of long Covid on individuals’ lives but also on other respiratory infections. A lack of awareness, and even a standard terminology, hinders both reporting and diagnosis of these conditions.”

As research into long Covid continues, it is imperative to investigate and consider the lasting impacts of other acute respiratory infections. These “prolonged” infections present diagnostic and treatment challenges due to the diversity of symptoms, with more than 200 symptoms investigated for long Covid alone.

According to data from the Office for National Statistics, an estimated 1.9 million people in the UK, approximately 3% of the population, were grappling with long Covid in the spring. Nevertheless, the exact number of affected individuals remains challenging to ascertain.

Professor Peter Openshaw, an expert in experimental medicine at Imperial College London, stressed the study’s significance in highlighting that recovery from acute respiratory infections may be slow, regardless of the cause. He cautioned against diminishing the impact of long Covid by referring to it as a “long cold.”

Professor Paul Harrison, a psychiatry expert at the University of Oxford, affirmed that this study supports previous findings indicating that long-term symptoms can follow respiratory infections in general, not limited to Covid-19.

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